Nazi trolls, alt-right vloggers and leading activists made millions from Bitcoin in 2017
In recent months, it’s been hard to avoid the deluge of news articles, TV reports, social media chatter and conversations down the pub about the huge profits to be made from investing in the cryptocurrency Bitcoin.
Emerging into public view in 2009 thanks to its elusive creator Satoshi Nakamoto, the value of this decentralized digital currency hit record highs in 2017. Beginning the year at a price of just $930 it had rocketed to nearly $20,000 by mid-December on the CoinDesk Bitcoin Price Index.
While Bitcoin prices fluctuate wildly and have taken a tumble since peaking in December, enormous and fast profits were made, with the worlds press declaring internet entrepreneurs the Winklevoss twins to be the “first bitcoin billionaires”.
Far-right actors have long been interested in cryptocurrencies, in particular the tech-savvy alt-right. For the most part, their attraction to this technology comes from the lack of regulation and legal oversight it affords (though, as demonstrated recently, there is also the potential for huge financial gains). More still, for a contingent of the far right, it is also because, as David Golumbia of Virginia Commonwealth University explains in The Politics of Bitcoin: Software as Right-Wing Extremism: “Bitcoin and its blockchain technology subscribe to a form of cyberlibertarianism that depends to a surprising extent on far-right political thought.”
While prized for its anonymity, those seeking donations have no choice but to publish their Bitcoin Wallet addresses, making it possible to track transactions in and out by looking through the Blockchain (an open source ledger of all transactions).
A HOPE not hate investigation into alt-right bitcoin donations has found that a number leading far-right figures have made huge profits in 2017.
Molyneux: The Big Winner
Stefan Molyneux is a social media personality primarily known for his YouTube channel which features videos such as ‘How Feminism Destroyed Europe’ and ‘Why Human Rights Are Wrong’. Ideologically, he is best understood as part of the ‘alt-light’: the contingent of the alt-right whose focus is on what they perceive as threats to the West, such as Islam, immigration and progressive movements, rather than the establishment of a white ethnostate. His videos have a pseudo-academic air, often presented with accompanying slides and his followers’ forum, Freedomain Radio, he dubs “The Largest Philosophy Conversation in the World”.
Given his style, it is no surprise Molyneux has interviewed the political scientist and co-author of the influential scientific racist text, The Bell Curve, Charles Murray. The interview forms part of Molyneux’s ‘Experts Interview’ series on human intelligence, which also features a discussion that flirts with the alt-right’s favoured racist theory of ‘Human Biodiversity’. Given the centrality of race to the alt-right’s ideology, this places him much closer to the alt-right than most in the alt-light; indeed, Molyneux has interviewed leading alt-right figure Jared Taylor for “An Honest Conversation about Race”.
Between February 2013 and January 2018 a sum of Bitcoins valued at $1,350,816 have been withdrawn from his wallet. The bulk of this was the result of two major batches of withdrawals in 2017, the first lot coming over two days in June which netted him $819,648, the second on 30 July worth $520,872.
Astonishingly, over the same period he received just $40,362 in donations meaning his vast profits were due to the huge rises in the price of Bitcoin in 2017.
In addition to these massive figures, it is worth remembering that Bitcoin is just one of the crypto-currencies Molyneux accepts, the others being, Bitcoin Cash, Ethereum, Litecoin, Ripple, Dash, NEO, Dogecoin and NXT. It’s also likely that the majority of his donations still come through regular donations via credit card or PayPal as part of his monthly recurring donation scheme.
Andrew Anglin is an infamous American Nazi who has adopted the iconography of the alt-right and is best known as the founder of the Daily Stormer website, named after the extreme, antisemitic Nazi newspaper Der Stürmer produced by Julius Streicher. The site attracted greater attention in 2017 after the Southern Poverty Law Centre filed a federal suit against Anglin for orchestrating a torrent of antisemitic abuse and threats directed at a Jewish woman.
As first noticed by the Southern Poverty Law Centre, Anglin received a single donation of 14.88 Bitcoin on 20 August 2017 (a reference to the Nazi slogan, the “14 words” and 88 being code for “Heil Hitler”). At the time, this was worth over $61,000.
Since opening the wallet, over $76,000 worth of Bitcoin has been withdrawn, though interestingly Anglin has managed his donations poorly, withdrawing at the wrong times and missing out on even bigger profits. An analysis of the dollar amounts going into the account shows $68,842 meaning he increased his donations by just $7,158 between them entering and leaving his wallet.
Anglin’s colleague at the Daily Stormer, Andrew Auernheimer (aka “weev”) has fared rather better, however. Auernheimer has provided technical assistance to the Daily Stormer and is an infamous troll and hacker in his own right. Following the murder of anti-racist protester Heather Heyer at the alt-right ‘Unite the Right’ rally in Charlottesville, Virginia on 12 August 2017, Auernheimer announced he was seeking to “get people on the ground” at her funeral. A long-time user of Bitcoin, with a wallet dating back years, he has received over 194 Bitcoin with a huge $232,000 leaving his account.
Missed Opportunity For Spencer
Others in the movement have failed to capitalize on the boom, most notably the alt-right’s de facto leader, Richard Spencer. Despite claiming in March that: “Bitcoin is the currency of the alt right”, he has received just $1,925 into his account. However, due to a recent fall in the price his 0.13 Bitcoin is worth just $1,471 (at the time of writing) meaning it is worth less now than when it was donated to him.
Of course, it is again likely that the bulk of donations to Spencer come in the form of card and Paypal transactions so it is best to view this as a missed opportunity rather than an indicator of the financial health of his enterprises. One interesting aside is that both Spencer’s National Policy Institute (NPI) and the AltRight Corporation – which resulted from a merger between NPI and the leading European alt-right organisations, Arktos Media and Red Ice Creations, in 2017 – ask for Bitcoin donations to the same wallet, showing just how integrated the organisations are.
Unlike Spencer, one person who has had significant donations is his alt-right rival Greg Johnson, the highly influential yet elusive character behind the leading American alt-right organisation, Counter-Currents Publishing. Johnson was anonymous for decades until a HOPE not hate investigation last year captured footage of him in London attending a meeting of the far-right London Forum.
Johnson has had a total of 8 Bitcoin in his wallet, 7.8 of which he still has (and which equates, at the time of writing, to nearly $90,000). Back in December, this was worth over $150,000.
Rising Prices, Accelerating Dangers
The dizzying recent prices of Bitcoin have almost been matched by the level of hyperbole involved in its discussion, yet in the case of the alt-right there is genuine cause for concern given how much some key actors have been able to capitalise effectively on the technology’s growth. (And in case you are still feeling at all indifferent to these developments, it is worth remembering that Bitcoin and alternative cryptocurrencies are just one funding stream alongside the alt-right’s conventional means of receiving donations.)
Perhaps most worryingly, this boon to the alt-right highlights the degree to which the most tech-savvy amongst them are thinking two steps ahead. The Daily Stormer’s Auernheimer, after all, was already speaking of his preference for an alternative, more private cryptocurrency, Monero, in August last year.
As Julia Ebner from the Institute for Strategic Dialogue argued in The Guardian recently regarding the far right’s use of cryptocurrencies, we must: “become faster than extremists at identifying future loopholes that can be exploited to promote their activities”. Knowing now the staggering gains for some in the alt-right from Bitcoin, there is little reason for those of us fighting back to slow down.
Additional research by:
Dr Joe Mulhall is Senior Researcher at HOPE not hate. Formerly he was a visiting lecturer at Royal Holloway, University of London where he also completed his PhD on the postwar far right. He has published extensively on the international far right and discussed his research on the BBC, CNN and Channel 4 news among others. If you have a tip, get in touch at [email protected]Twitter